• Linda Buchanan

So What Is Ambivalence Anyway?

Updated: Feb 23, 2019

“Ambivalence is a wonderful tune to dance to. It has a rhythm all its own.”  — Erica Jon


Being ambivalent is part of the remarkable complexity of being human. Ambivalence is the experience of having more than one feeling or perspective about the same event or situation. It allows us to view things from multiple perspectives and to be creative in problem solving. This capability sets us apart from other animals whose brains function primarily to react through instinct.


For example, you need to complete a project but friends have asked you to go out for dinner and a movie. Therefore, you are stuck and can't make a decision. This is because you may be failing to recognize that there is wisdom in both. You may not recognize that you have a value to work hard as well as to build strong relationships and your values are in conflict. As long as you are trying to decide between one option or the other, you may be stuck. In situations like this it is helpful to acknowledge both values and find a compromise such as going out for dinner only. Compromises are sometimes the best way to honor our values.


We often feel ambivalent. Just consider all the phrases used for ambivalence: Of two minds, I’m torn, it’s a dilemma, the jury’s still out, waffling, it’s debatable, vacillating, wavering, having a foot in both camps, hem and haw, it’s a quandary, sitting on the fence, in limbo, wishy-washy. It’s obviously a normal human condition. I love the scenes from Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye expresses his ambivalence while talking with God by saying, “On the one hand … but on the other hand…” In one famous scene he says it about six times (of course we don’t have that many hands). In frustration, he yells, “No! There is no other hand!”


Ambivalence is a normal human experience that can exist due to our ability to see an event from many angles. However, we can get stuck when we don't know how to resolve it. Procrastination can be a signal that we are experiencing ambivalence. Start by asking yourself if there is wisdom on each side of the dilemma. Often times the way to move forward is by finding a path that incorporates aspects of both sides. I would love to hear from you. Please scroll down to the bottom of this page (past the banner of recent posts) to leave a comment.

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© 2019 by Linda Buchanan PhD.   Website by Nancy Steffke.